‘Right to rent’ hostile environment policy faces legal challenge

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) has been given permission by the High Court to bring a legal challenge against the government’s ‘right to rent’ policy. The policy is a key a strand of the Home Office’s notorious ‘hostile environment’, which outsources immigration enforcement to the public, embedding borders in all sorts of different aspects of our day-to-day life.

Operating since 2014, The right-to-rent scheme places a legal requirement on landlords and their agents to carry out immigration checks on tenants. The punishment for those who fail to do this is severe: a civil penalty of up to £3,000 and a possible prison sentence of up to five years. Almost have of landlords surveyed have stated that this makes them less likely to rent to people without British passports (which includes 17% of UK citizens). Numerous reports have shown highlighted how the policy increases homelessness, discrimination and exploitation.

Legal Action

Earlier in the week a cross-party group of 20 opposition MPs wrote to the home secretary, Sajid Javid, urging a review of the scheme.

The Residential Landlords Association, who are supporting JCWI’s legal case, wrote in the Times today calling for the scheme to be suspended, arguing that “there is now ample evidence that a key part of this is making it difficult for non-UK nationals to access housing,” and that it will also disproportionately affect the poorest UK citizens in society who are least able to prove their status.

Baroness Lister (Labour) raised concerns about the policy in the House of Lords yesterday afternoon, with support from Liberal Democrat, Conversative and Crossbench peers. Lord Best, co-chair of the Home Office’s right to rent consultative panel, expressed his surprise (to audiable laughter) at the announcement that the panel had been reconvened, for they had not met in 18 months. Baroness Williams of Trafford, the Minister of State for the Home Department, responded by repeating the lie that the scheme had not caused discrimination (see these reports), and that she ‘hopes’ Lord Best will be on the next panel – to jeers from the house.

‘Right to rent’ has not yet been rolled out to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) wrote that “unsurprisingly…the scheme is not being welcomed by local government bodies, housing organisations or landlords.”

Meanwhile, the scheme continues to affect millions of people. Kate, a renter affected by the scheme was interviewed in the press this morning:

“She claimed her landlord rented her a property in North London last October, knowing her residency status and that she did not have a passport. But when she started complaining about repairs, he alerted the Home Office.

The department sent him a Notice of Letting to a Disqualified Person, telling him he had immigration grounds for ending the tenancy with Kate. The landlord then issued a claim for possession of the room she is renting.”

Kate and her lawyer are also seeking permission to legally challenge the policy in relation to her case. Her lawyer “said he would be arguing the right to rent scheme discriminated against people because of their nationality or immigration status.”

DonateThe initial legal action was crowdfunded. Thanks to their backers for making this vital action possible! JCWI are currently fundraising for the next stage (you can contribute here).

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